Not the N-word
My grandmother is a mestiza, or the Philippines' version of a Creole, and all her childhood, she was accustomed to being the most light-skinned girl in the room. It all changed when she took a trip to Spain in the late 1940s. She was exotically dark even to the olive-skinned Sevillians, and young men would come on to her by addressing her as "Negra."
I remember sharing that anecdote with some of my students, whose horrified reactions showed they had missed the context entirely. It wasn't really their fault, the young things. These days, the nice description for a dark-skinned girl as morena . . . which isn't much of a compliment, as the modern beauty craze is the perfect skin lightening moisturiser. =P
Then there are the odd generational factors . . . Young men are just not as forward with girls as their fathers used to be (I blame the feminists who never got hit on and don't want the rest of us to get hit on either) . . . and it's worth wondering whether exposure to US pop culture has given Filipinos an acquired aversion to the "n-word."
Now, I'm not a big fan of shaming language. I know how powerful words can be, how effective they are in both building up and knocking down, and think that we'd be better communicators (both speakers and listeners) if we understood this. I also think that the best communicators combine this fine sensitivity with skin thick enough to repel bullets.
3 WordsThat Sound Racist but Really Aren't
Romance author Jo Beverley was once told off in her own combox by a disgruntled reader for using the "racist" adverb niggardly in one of her novels.
Ah, how do you even answer accusations like that???
Beverley was polite but firm in her reply, pointing out that "niggard" and "nigger," despite nearly being homophones (Why do I have the feeling I'll draw more fire from "homophone" than from "nigger"?) aren't even from the same root. The former is from the Scandinavian nygg, which has always meant stingy; the latter from the Latin niger, which has always meant black.
So what we can take away from this is the lesson that if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck . . . you might still want to check your ornithological dictionary first. You don't want to end up with swan egg on your face.
This is a word which we can't really afford to lose. Like "gay," it has many synonyms but no real equal. Yes, we can say "cheerful" instead of "gay" these days . . . but we've already lost the second word's phonetic tug on our mouths that makes simply saying it an exercise in smiling. Thesauri everywhere are poorer for it.
Now, "snigger" doesn't seem like such a huge loss. It has dark undertones to it that suggest that someone is laughing at another's misfortune. (Okay, am I now going to get in trouble for writing "dark undertones"?) We also have "snicker," its more light-hearted fraternal twin, which brings to mind one of the best chocolate bars on the planet and the wholesome whickering of horses. So why not just retire the controversial word which happens to be a perfect anagram of "niggers"?
When it comes to words, there are two ways to lose: a) making ourselves unable to name something good; and b) making ourselves unable to name something bad. A character who snickers comes across as a mere prankster; one who sniggers can be recognised as a villain. It has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with what we hear in a laugh that is swallowed rather than shared.
This one comes with a YouTube video that you might have already seen.
Important issues first . . . Isn't the look on the boy's face at the end absolutely fantastic??? =D
When someone told me about this, I assumed the first syllable contained a Short I sound. I was surprised when I finally watched the video and heard the Long E sound.
You know how some people hear only what they want to hear? I guess some people only want to hear what can make them feel self-righteously offended.
But even in this, there was a "teaching moment": now we all know what the pre-1974 ruler of Ethiopia was called.